CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Two former General Assembly pages are coming to the defense of Virginia’s first lady following accusations that she singled another page out because of her race.
Wednesday, 10 On Your Side was first to report a Virginia Senate page’s claim that Pam Northam, Virginia’s First Lady acted “inappropriately” during a tour of the executive mansion.
The eighth grader, who WAVY.com is not identifying, detailed in a letter to Mrs. Northam that when in the cottage house, the first lady displayed cotton and talked about how slaves had to pick it.
“When you went to hand out the cotton, you handed it straight to another African American page,” the page wrote. “You put the cotton in our hands and said, ‘Can you imagine being and enslaved person, and having to pick this all day?'”
She writes the incident made them feel uncomfortable, and many of the pages didn’t want to go on the tour because of recent events, referring to the racist picture on the governor’s page in his medical school yearbook.
However, two House of Delegates pages that were also on a tour that day, disagree with the Senate page’s assessment.
“I was at first shocked because Mrs. Northam seemed very kind and genuine to me and everyone else,” said Celina Harris. “I can understand why she would think [it was offensive]. But at the same time we learn about this same thing year after year in history class and there is no offense taken I don’t think.”
Celina along with fellow house page Madelyn Miller say everyone in their group touched the cotton and don’t believe any one race of page was singled out.
“She may have been looking for something that was negative when there wasn’t anything,” Miller said.
The following is Pam Northam’s full statement on the letter:
“As First Lady, I have worked over the course of the last year to begin telling the full story of the Executive Mansion, which has mainly centered on Virginia’s governors. The Historic Kitchen should be a feature of Executive Mansion tours, and I believe it does a disservice to Virginians to omit the stories of the enslaved people who lived and worked there–that’s why I have been engaged in an effort to thoughtfully and honestly share this important story since I arrived in Richmond.
I have provided the same educational tour to Executive Mansion visitors over the last few months and used a variety of artifacts and agricultural crops with the intention of illustrating a painful period of Virginia history. I regret that I have upset anyone.
I am still committed to chronicling the important history of the Historic Kitchen, and will continue to engage historians and experts on the best way to do so in the future.”